Unification News for September 2002

A Case for an Interreligious Council at the United Nations

by Dr. Frank Kaufmann

Noting certain broad and sweeping trends in history since the 17th century can bring us to see how the UN can reform itself to meet its current challenges. The 17th century, at least in the West, was known especially for the 30 Years War, which was one of the most far reaching and destructive wars in recent history. Some estimates claim that Europe lost at least a third of its population in this ruinous war. It tends to be thought of as a religious war although religion in fact was just a part of the equation.

This massive conflict reluctantly limped to its exhausted end with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, the essence of which became codified, or popularly known through its Latin phrase Cuius Regio Eius Religio, meaning roughly that each leader will determine the religion which will be practiced under his sovereignty. This is how they finally settled this violent and irresolvable conflict between the newly arisen Protestantism, and the hitherto dominant Roman Catholicism of Western Europe.

This decision to allow the leaders chose the religion of his region marked the seminal impulses at the dawn of the rise of nation sates. The treaty begins the process of organizing human beings around something other than the blood lineage of a particular family.

The nation state can be defined as "the absolute nature or primacy of national cultures." Thus culture rather than the privilege of a single family generates the form of government and the social system around which populations coalesce.

Two extremely important but often overlooked aspects characterized this development in human political history: 1. All subsequent political and social development had distrust of religion and religious belief running through its veins, and 2. The view prevailed that religions and religious believers cannot be trusted or left to their own devices. This anti religiosity was justified by the behavior of religions and religious figures during the 30 years war. All subsequent reflection on how to build government and order society was attended by the demons of the 30 years war which declared that religion cannot be active as a co-participant in designing theories of how human beings are properly and peacefully organized in government and society.

Much of the most elegant derision of religion is found in the ideological and philosophical forces of the French Philosophs, and Encyclopaedists. Such folk as Voltaire, Diderot and others giftedly established the view of religion as a primitive, if necessary part of human life (for the great unwashed). Religion was the dull hammer of superstition that marked one as being intellectually inferior and unsophisticated. Finally, (it came to be held in the universities and coffee shops) we can organize ourselves in ways that never again will give way to the primitive violence manifest by Catholics and Protestants who destroyed "the civilized world" in the name of God.

This view that religious belief is a threat to peace and reasonable social life has never gone away. As political thought evolved, issues of sovereignty, national government, international relations and so forth, were always attended by the derogation of religion as the enemy of peaceful and orderly human organization.


Eventually social, political, and economic organization developed beyond the nation state. This is not often reflected upon. In the latter half of the 20th Century the human population came to exist in "blocs." Blocs are larger, more expansive, than states. They are a new way of organizing human beings beyond national boundaries. Eventually things expanded until there were two major blocs. (Really there were always three. We now feel the error of that errant view of a bipolar world.) The two blocs of the cold war era have had different monikers including "the Communist bloc," and the "free West," or "Democratic bloc."

This expansion is even more sophisticated than the shift to nation states. People became bound beyond national culture and contiguous territory, and came to be organized around an idea. In this case the animating dynamic or core ideals in each idea were "freedom" on the one side, and "equality," on the other. Freedom as a core ideal, values freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom to gather, freedom of the press, a free market and so forth.

Equality as a core ideal, supposedly governing communist pursuits, advocated state protection of individuals against the radical inequalities which arise when people left freely to do whatever they want.

Freedom and equality were the two major ideological virtues that clashed throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

The latter half of the 20th century also happens to be the period in human history in which the United Nations itself evolved itself as a peace seeking institution.

So, the United Nations as a body with a large part of its mission being to resolve conflict should also have addressed the clash between freedom and it's derivatives and equality and its derivatives.

Freedom of Religion

There was a deeper component to the division between the Eastern and Western Blocs of the "cold war." The identifying traits were not limited solely to questions of freedom and equality. Each side was also had a clear perspective on religion.

The "Western" view, most fully manifest in the United States is the "freedom of religion" position; namely "all religion," or "any religion" (if it is really religion) is OK. Every (genuine) religion is perfectly OK. Come worship here. The "communist bloc" was basically the opposite. All religion is not OK. NO religion is welcome here. So the division of blocs was not only a clash of ideologies, and economic systems and theories, but (perhaps more importantly) positions on religion underlay the two poles of the primary conflict of the last century. All religion is fine versus no religion is fine. (The current "world war" also revolves centrally around the freedom of religion issues as well.)

The blinding implosion and sudden vanishing of the Soviet axis of communism in 1989 was in many ways due to its external structures, but virtually all analysis tended to assess economies and comparative economic theory.

It was said that free market economy finally won the day and that's why communism fell, the socialist economy fell, et cetera. But analysts have not, for many reasons, analyzed the fact that one other hugely significant thing won the day, namely the view that all (genuine) religion is fine. The view against religion withered.

The new shape of world affairs following the collapse of Soviet centered communism did not for the most part have religion and religious reality in its analysis and interpretation of new international realities.

Thus this 400-year-old habit of elite intelligentsia to ignore religion in their attempts to analyze and understand human reality left the world completely flat-footed to meet what arose and is called the war on terrorism.

Thinkers, writers, and those who influence and implement policy with the habit of deliberately ignoring the religious question, were suddenly we are met with "the war on terrorism" which is massively religious in character. No one was properly situated in their habit of mind, in their habit of analysis to grasp and engage our current issues and challenges because of this.

Presently a genuine chaos and profound disorder of a purely religious question infects the whole world to its extreme core. By extreme core I mean that we simultaneously we face the danger of nuclear Holocaust on the one hand and the annihilation of a mother buying diapers in a supermarket for the baby in her arms, splattering her across the supermarket wall on the other.

And all of this is religious above all. Yet leaders are not in the habit of thinking religiously, instead focusing instead political, economic, and ideological elements of clash. These same gaps in understanding were present in the evolution of governments and political blocs, which have always been bound by the anti-religion, which arose following the religious wars of the 17th Century, and have never gone away.

USA and the United Nations

Of the two bodies the United States and the United Nations, the one that had a better chance of responding to a suddenly religious form of disorder in the world was the United States because it is the more religious of the two bodies. There's plenty of religion in the US, there's not much religion in the UN.

The United States not did not have solely and purely a military response to the attack on Washington, New York and elsewhere. Rather much of what the President of the United States and his administration did in response was religious. Before the military pursuit of the terrorists in Afghanistan, President Bush prayed with Muslim Imamís and leaders from all religions in Americanís National Cathedral.

The US is not that good at incorporating religious elements into its policy-making, but it is better than the United Nations. It is just that the United Nations, in its short time of existence, never developed in this area. This is not to be critical of the UN. It is what it is. It reflects the character of the age in which it was born.

The mad scramble by the United Nations to sew on a new religious patch onto its old wine skin immediately prior to the millennium summit though noble in intent did little more than show the extreme inexperience of this body in matters of religion.

Fact is it simply is not easy to work effectively in multi-religious encounters. It is not a game of pretty outfits. One cannot do religious things on the quick, on the fly. No matter how deep the pockets of the sponsor, religious concord is not easily achieved; it cannot be patched together for the cameras, or done insincerely. Religions working together need a history, and careful consideration. It needs serious investment before it can be presented to a body like the United Nations.

My point in summary is that the United Nations now needs to quickly decide how to incorporate serious, carefully structured religious instruments into its diplomatic mission and organization. So does the United States, and the two must work hand in hand. I hold that the current problems are solvable. I am not pessimistic in any way about the current world situation. And I believe that the United States and the United Nations are natural partners in the care for the world.

Religions and religious leaders must step up to the plate and be far more exemplary, far more concerned for the world, less devious and political in their dealings, less parochial and must establish their role with dignity in cooperation with visionaries and global minded people like United Nations and United States political leaders.

The UN in my observation is not anti religious as some argue. I think it has lived its mission reflecting its time. I believe that it is sufficiently nimble as an organization and capable of reforming and adopting to new international realities. World issues at present are far more religious than ideological. And if the United Nations does not quickly incorporate into put on its official organization an explicitly inter religious body of deliberation and consultation, it will become irrelevant. I know this sounds naive or overly brash, but I believe a dispassionate analysis of contemporary reality will confirm this point of view.

There could be no greater loss for the world, as Professor Cordesman eloquently described, than the loss of a vigorous and effective United Nations Organization. The US could never maintain peaceful relations internationally without the help of the United Nations.

Therefore it is crucial that the United Nations establish a reliable, sophisticated, sincerely run inter religious body of consultation and deliberation. This is urgent and should be done quickly.

Religion and the War on Terrorism

Because the guerrillas, who attacked innocent US civilians in September 2001, were said to have acted from religious motivations, the US necessarily incorporated religious elements into its response.

The religious elements of the current terrorist environment require that policy makers seeking to restore international peace and security for US citizens and for the citizens of other countries understand religion more clearly.

This war on terrorism has both short term and long-term goals; likewise approaches must reflect both surface and deep considerations. Presently short term or surface considerations dominate. The best of the best at first, and still now devote themselves to forging a web of intelligence, military, political, and diplomatic relations required to respond to the surface manifestation of terrorism. The surface manifestation of terrorism is the fact that people acquire and deploy the tools of violence against civilian targets, according to the theory and practice of asymmetrical or revolutionary warfare, destructive engagement, and tactics of destabilization, developed most recently in the 20th century during the era of communist expansion.

The war on terrorism, is currently in its short term and superficial phase. An enormously expensive project designed to disrupt the acquisition and deployment of the tools of violence by those who are willing to use them against the US and US allies. Were the US were not attacked, we would not be active as we are now in the war on terrorism. All other countries in the world are lucky the US was attacked because we are so rich and powerful, and good at what we do. Since the US now feels threatened by terrorism, there is a high likelihood that the short term, superficial program to disrupt occasions of terror will have a high degree of success.

Security is a higher and more complex goal than war The current phase of the war on terrorism is only one element in the larger goal of security. Though entirely inadequate in the long term, this current process nevertheless, is good for many reasons. It has forced levels of international cooperation far deeper than at any time in human history, including shared intelligence, and military cooperation. Although this is now straining a bit at the seams, and in my opinion with collapse should the US unilaterally attack Iraq.

This short-term response to the surface aspects of the attack on the US had and to some extent has religious aspects. These derive from the identity of the terrorists, domestic demographics (and those of our allies), and the necessity to rapidly forge and effective alliance for the prosecution of the short-term goals. The individuals and organizations involved in attacking the US identified themselves and their actions as Muslim. For this reason the US had to include in its war on terrorism some stance vis a vis Islam, an international community of approximately 1 billion believers.

Points which had to be considered include the significant Muslim population in the US and throughout Europe, the Muslim elements of the international and domestic policies of allies in the war such as Russia and China, and finally and perhaps most importantly, the need for cooperation from Muslim states.

As an American patriot, and as a religious professional in touch with the far reaches of Muslim positions I hold the opinion that the Bush administration managed the religious element of the superficial phase of its war excellently.

For the first several days immediately following the attack against the United States, President Bush met and appeared with Muslim leaders. Even in the National Cathedral where the innocent dead were first honored, a Muslim Cleric was a prominent member of the clergy present. In addition to these public symbols, President Bush also met privately with Muslim leaders, and (unfortunately) Sikh leaders, since the latter had suffered attack due to the ignorance of vigilantes. But it should also be noted how out of touch US leadership is with its Muslim population by its choice of which clerics were quickly convened to participate in these important national ceremonies.

Additionally, most or all military actions in Afghanistan were accompanied by humanitarian campaigns for the Afghani people, who had suffered at the hands of the radical Taliban. Finally communications were effectively and impressively managed in which the constant refrain hit home that our war is not with the millions of peace loving Muslim believers. This allowed for domestic unification, and the chance for unlikely allies to support US military force on foreign soil. Of course the huge economic windfall, and obvious plum of being a part of the big game made cooperation an obvious choice. Still serious errors on the short term religious front could well have confounded the chance to effectively prosecute this war at its present superficial level namely to obstruct acquisition and deployment of the means of violence against the US and civilian targets.

The US and its allies in the war safely navigated the religious elements on the superficial level, through symbol, rhetoric, and content, especially its commitment to fund the reconstruction of Afghanistan. (An Oxymoron, by the way -- construction of Afghanistan is the only way accurately to describe current efforts.)

As I already said, much good has come from this war, not only in terms of deeper international cooperation (which should yield many kinds of good), but also as we saw, much of what was precious about America which had been lost in boon times, has been recovered through the sobering impact of our collective shock and sorrow.

The gains in military, intelligence, and security resulting from the external, superficial, and short-term goals of the war are invaluable, and should have a permanent positive impact on the quality of life all over the world.

Long Term Considerations

What has yet to be pursued adequately however, are the long term elements of the war. This is not a failure. In my opinion the response to date has gone well. One cannot do everything at once. Any further delay, however, in moving ahead to the deeper and more long-term issues, in my opinion, will have dire consequences for the whole world, and for Americans. Already the diplomatic bind in which the US finds itself vis a vis escalation of violence in Israel shows beyond doubt that the US must rapidly enter its second, more difficult phase in the war. It is at this phase in which the religious aspects of the war come more strongly to the fore.

The long term aspects of the war on terrorism is one that transcends a perpetual military action and must result in some resolution. No war is designed to be prosecuted indefinitely. The necessity for exit, ultimately will require a clear understanding of the religious issues beyond symbol and rhetoric, and will necessitate the involvement of religious leaders themselves.

Potential terrorists feel justified in prosecuting asymmetrical warfare for a just cause.

Why is attack on America and its allies a just cause? This is the view of the Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site, 31 January 2002:

"Because George W. Bush [is] among the most menacing and belligerent [presidents] in American history. [He has] outlined a program of limitless and perpetual warfare, on every continent, and against any regime that stands in the way of the rapacious American ruling class.... like Hitler and the Nazis, American militarism has embarked on a campaign of world conquest and world domination... [President Bush has issued] a declaration of the unbridled appetites of the military and of the most ruthless, corrupt and criminal sections of the American ruling elite ...Like Hitler, Bush presents an upside-down view of the world in which small and weak states are mortal threats to the most powerful and heavily armed... The Middle East and Central Asia possess, between them, more than two thirds of the world reserves of oil and natural gas. The US attacked Afghanistan as the first step in a campaign to establish its military position in Central Asia. Iran has come into direct conflict with this drive by pursuing its own interests in the Persian-speaking regions of western Afghanistan. Iran and Iraq are themselves the second and third largest oil producers in the region, following only Saudi Arabia... From a military standpoint, the network of bases and access rights which the US has established since September 11 resembles more and more a noose tightening around China: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, the Philippines."

Are militant Islamists the only people who feel this way about America? By no means, this view perhaps slightly more moderate is easy to find in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Harvard faculty, and in the CNN newsroom.

And what of the American pursuit of Al Qaeda? At least that is seen as justified. Right?

Hearís how near a million young men between 10 and 20 are taught on the current situation:

"Seminaries, called madrassas, have become incubators in Pakistan for the holy warriors who say they will die to defend Islam and their hero, Osama bin Laden, from the infidels. In many of the 7,500 madrassas in Pakistan, inside a student body of 750,000 to a million, students learn to recite and obey Islamic law, and to distrust and hate the United States... in many madrassas here in Pakistan especially those near the border with Afghanistan militant Muslims lecture students that the United States is a nation of Christians and Jews who are not after a single terrorist or government but are bent on the worldwide annihilation of Islam... "They send cruise missiles against gravestones," said Al-Sheikh Rahat Gul, the stick-thin, 81-year-old maulana who heads Markaz Uloom Islamia in Peshawar, a madrassa with about 250 students.

"The Americans kill only innocents said the maulana, a large pair of thick-lensed, black-framed glassed sitting crookedly on his head. "The Koran forbids the killing of females, children, elders and cattle," he said. "That is war. That is not holy war." Sons of Islam must answer that tyranny with holy war, he said."

But surely these young people would feel sadness over the Trade Tower bombing?

Al Shaikh Rahat Gull, condemns the World Trade Center attack but dismisses any connection to this part of the world. "The Jews have done this," he said, calling the attacks a plot by Israel to draw the world into war. "And the Hindus are just like them." [New York Times, October 14, 2001]

How naive to imagine that the pursuit of a single man, or a single group, or the prosecution of a superficial war on acquisition and deployment, holds any likelihood of a lasting peace and resolution to the problem of terrorism.

I have just returned from Israel where nightly I slept within earshot of violence. Suicide bombs going off daily, killing innocents during crowded worship services on the most sacred days in the Jewish calendar, in crowded coffee shops, and in supermarkets; the places where life should proceed peacefully are flowing with blood every single day. Conversely, the Israeli response seeking to root out such terrorism and isolate Arafat is widely regarded as a violation of international law and protocol.

This eruption threatening to drag the world into war, has not involved a single member of al Qaeda. While all of America plays a billion dollar game of where Waldo, 16-year-old girls commit suicide and murder innocents convinced that the act is Godly!

"I am very happy and proud of what my son did and, frankly, am a bit jealous,'' says Hassan Hotari, 54, father of the young man who carried out the attack June 1 outside a disco in Tel Aviv [killing 21 civilians]. It was Israel's worst suicide bombing in nearly four years. ''I wish I had done (the bombing). My son has fulfilled the Prophet's (Mohammed's) wishes. He has become a hero! Tell me, what more could a father ask?''

A leading Islamist authority, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, recently explained the distinction this way: attacks on enemies are not suicide operations, but ''heroic martyrdom operations'' in which the kamikazes act not ''out of hopelessness and despair, but are driven by an overwhelming desire to cast terror and fear into the hearts of the oppressors.''

In other words, Islamists find suicide for personal reasons abominable, suicide for jihad admirable [Pipes Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2001]

The role of religion in the war on terrorism requires an understanding of theology, history, and what one may call ecclesiology or doctrine of clerical authority.

Expertise in these matters lies with scholars of religion, and with religious leaders themselves. The assumption that one can conduct international affairs absent constant consultation with religious scholars and with religious leaders themselves should be unthinkable. Culpability for this problem lies not only with political and diplomatic leadership, but also with the religions themselves.

Very briefly for the long-term war on terrorism one must have a clear and complete knowledge of the full range of potential doctrinal interpretation on the issues of violence, the use of violence, conditions of war, issues of self-defense and so forth. Further one must similarly know the full range of interpretation for texts and authority pertaining to the rights of and postures toward non-believers. For example since September 11 everyone has heard of the term Jihad, but virtually no non-Muslim is aware of Wa Qatalehum, (which pertains to the extent and nature of self defense, and what constitutes aggression). This latter term to my mind is endlessly more dangerous in its range of interpretation.

The theology of land is also central if one desires a sound and long-term approach to the problem of terrorism.

Secondly one must know deeply and clearly religious and interreligious history. Narrowly, as pertains the war on terrorism, it is important to know the history of what might be called religious conquest, and conversion and expansion. As cultures and empires rise and fall, they leave behind them a record of what might be called theological declaration. That the Ruler is, or is loved by [the true] God, and that [the true] God is glorified in the highest place of honor. This habit of conquerors and leaders has created for the modern world half dozen or more physical sites that invoke fanatical reaction. These include, the sacred sites in the Holy Land, most especially the Dome of the Rock, and now the Church of the Annunciation, the site of the Ayodhya Mosque in Gujarat, to a lesser but not insignificant extent sites in Constantinople, most specifically the Haga Sophia and Blue Mosque.

Additionally one must know the history of religiously defined political and military activity (the Crusades for example), through the prism of what each tradition erects as its theology of history. Namely to what degree does what happens in history reflect the and of God

Finally one must know deeply what I have termed ecclesiology or the structures of clerical and interpretive authority in religions. For example why is Osama Bin Laden able to have a following? Could Bin Laden, for example have defined his activity as a Catholic cause? Why or why not? How is religious authority established in Islam, for example?

First, it is important to understand that there is no central authority in Islam and that there is enormous flexibility and diversity in Islamic legal rulings. Nevertheless, there is often great consensus among Muslim scholars on matters large and small.

Scholars argue their various perspectives in legal opinions called fatwas. Fatwas have no weight unless accepted by the community of scholars. Consensus among scholars is recognized by the broad acceptance of legal opinion.

Terrorism: So if all this is true, then how do the very small number of Muslims who take part in terrorist activities justify their actions? This returns us to the discussion of the flexibility of Islamic law. A scholar may write a fatwa justifying terrorist acts, and he may be condemned by the consensus of Muslim scholars. But if anyone wants to rely on that fatwa, it is acceptable to do so. [Laury Silvers-Alario, Instructor of Islam, Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass.]

At least these elements must have religious advisement in any response to what has been labeled terrorism.

A public and responsible multi religious council for public affairs must be established to advise and participate in decision making in domestic and international affairs at the United Nations.

The IIFWP has a record of 25 years on the ground in matters of religion and peace. It predecessor, the IRFWP, was involved in international consultation during the Gulf War, and the 1993 Ayodhya Mosque controversy, as well as recently in Mindanao, Southern Philippines.

The IIFWP held an international assembly in New York within a month of the Trade Towers on Global Violence, and a month hence held a major, international conference for Muslim leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the Jakarta Declaration, which stands to date as the most far reaching statement for peace representing the broadest Muslim coalition assembled since September 11th.

Already by August of 2000, the founder of the IIFWP issued a clear policy speech at the United Nations, outlining concrete proposals well in advance of the current descent into violence and military response. This speech called for a permanent multi faith body IN the United Nations -- corresponding to the political representation in the General Assembly, and further introduced the doctrine of Peace Zones, by which many current religiously charged flash points can be administered and gradually resolved without violence.

This calls intensifies in its relevance with each passing day.

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